East Chicago Lead Water Line Project Lacks Participation

EAST CHICAGO, Ind. (AP) — A utilities director in northwest Indiana says lagging participation in a lead water service line replacement project could affect the area’s ability to justify future projects.

The East Chicago Water Board approved a $3.1 million plan last year to replace lead and galvanized steel water services lines in nearly 400 homes in the USS Lead Superfund site, The (Northwest Indiana) Times reported .

The site includes the West Calumet Housing Complex, where about 300 families were forced from the complex after 2016 tests found high lead levels in blood samples of some children. Soil tests found yards with lead levels significantly above the federal safety standard.

Hasse Construction won the lead line contract after bidding $1.3 million.

A lack of resident participation has increased contractor’s costs because there’s not enough daily work, said Abderrahman Zehraoui, the city’s utilities director. Some residents haven’t been home when contractors arrived to do previously scheduled work, while others didn’t feel comfortable interacting with strangers, he said.

City personnel will now wear identification, Zehraoui said. Officials also plan to hold a public meetings and open houses to raise awareness of the project, he said.

Local groups including the Community Strategy Group, Calumet Lives Matter and the East Chicago Calumet Coalition Community Advisory Group plan to help distribute information about the project.

The city will likely file a petition with the state Utility Regulatory Commission to replace about 6,000 lead service lines in the future, with the hopes of accessing some of the $436 million in federal loan money available through the Environmental Protection Agency’s Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program. The city will need to demonstrate interest when applying for the loan, Zehraoui said.

The lead line project’s costs have also increased because of the need to dewater some properties and unexpected concrete removal and replacement, Zehraoui said.

Indiana requires the city to bid the second phase of the project this year because the current contractor’s proposal has surpassed more than 20 percent of the base contract, Zehraoui said.

East Chicago has replaced nearly 200 lead lines since last year.

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